Mailer on writing

Norman Mailer died last month. I have very little appreciation for him, maybe a little more after reading Kriegel’s column. Assigned to read “Why Are We in Vietnam?” in college, I couldn’t get past D.J. and the first chapter.

He also had some weird propensities linking sex to everything, and it sounds like that got weirder as he got older (check out this link to Gawker, which references the London Literary Review). Oh, he also stabbed one of his wives (she lives on).

But on Kriegel’s recommendation, I picked up “The Fight” and “The Presidential Papers” (the latter I bought used on Amazon — it’s out of print). “The Fight” has a great first chapter, and I skipped ahead to the boxing chapters, which are great. The lead-up stuff is worth reading, too. But, as Mailer is wont to do, he bogs his writing down in writing about himself. I can’t stand the narcissism in print — it’s why I’m skipping around.

Still, as Kriegel puts it, he was right-on about the press, even way back in 1963, in “Ten Thousand Words a Minute.” And, from the same piece, even the master narcissist hits it on writing:

“Writing is of use to the psyche only if the writer discovers something he did not know in the act of writing. That is why a few men will go through hell in order to keep writing. … Being a writer can save one from insanity or cancer; being a bad writer can drive one smack into the center of the plague. Think of the poor reporter who does not have the leisure of the novelist or the poet to discover what he thinks. The unconscious gives up, buries itself, leaves the writer to his cliché, and saves the truth, or that part of it the reporter is yet privileged to find, for his colleagues and his friends. A good reporter is a man who must still tell you the truth privately; he has harsh bright eyes and can relate ten good stories in a row standing at a bar.”

Does it make any sense or is more coils of excrement? I’d like to think part of it is True. But maybe it depends on the depth of your hangover.


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